Friday, June 19, 2009

Do we think of writing as a career?

It makes a difference how we think of ourselves in how we approach our writing. If it is something we just do when it is convenient because we enjoy doing it, that’s pretty much the definition of a hobby. If we carve out the time for it and protect it, if we study and grow and improve our skills, if we attend conferences and get in critique groups, that is more like a career.

The bottom line is, we take it seriously, and a professional writer doesn’t pin all their hopes on one book. When they finish one, they move on and keep writing. I’m amazed at the number of people who keep trying to sell the same story year after year instead of moving on to a new project. A large number of writers will sell another book before they do a deal on the first one. And some never sell the first one, I know I didn’t.

A pro writer carefully targets submissions. They do the research and if they send it to an editor or agent they know they have the proper name, they know what they have been working in so they are sure they are a real possibility for a submission and not just a name pulled out of a market guide. They look at submission guidelines and are sending exactly what the person wants to receive in the manner they want to receive it. We never get a second chance to make a first impression so it is important to do things right.

A pro writer never sends anything that isn’t as ready as they can get it. The last thing we want to do is to trigger an editor into copy-edit mode, noticing the things that they would have to fix, instead of enjoying and evaluating the writing.

There are differing opinions advanced on whether a platform is important or not, but I’m getting more and more submissions returned saying “Not a bad project, but the author just doesn’t have enough platform.” Put me down on the side that says it is really vital. A pro works on improving their platform, building networking, coming up with new ways to have exposure to groups and contact points that might aid book sales. They have a good marketing plan that spells out exactly what they can do to help a publisher market the book. In today’s economy these are more than just a paragraph we have to have in a proposal.

And a pro does have a good, well formatted proposal that contains the information the person they have targeted wants to see. It contains comparables to books that are written for the same readers they hope to sell to. Not books written LIKE their book, but books that help define the reader base in a way that the editor will see exactly what it is.

A hobbyist just wants to write. The professional does all of the things necessary to support and present their writing. There’s nothing wrong with being a hobbyist, but if we claim to be a professional then we need to back it up with our actions.


Bible Devotion Fairy said...

Terry, I really liked what you have to say about pinning your hopes on one book. I've met some writers who are determined they will sell a certain project after being rejected numerous times. It's hard to decide that project A needs to take a vacation and project B needs to take center stage for a bit.

Teresa Slack said...

It's difficult not to love your first book so much, you can't imagine that it might not ever be published. But you are so right. Someone said yesterday this is a heart breaking business. We get our hearts broken every single day. But then something awesome happens and we forget the pain. Hmm, reminds me of childbirth.

Robert Treskillard said...

Great advice, Terry! Thanks for taking the time to help us out.